According to a senior Russian general, Russia wants to conquer southern Ukraine and provide a passage to the breakaway area of Transnistria in Moldova.
Maj Gen Rustam Minnekayev indicated that Moscow would want “complete control” of the south in addition to the eastern Donbas region, which is the Russian government’s avowed goal.
Transnistria is a minor region bordering Ukraine that is backed by Russia.
It’s unclear whether Gen Minnekayev’s remarks were sanctioned.
Russian defense officials informed the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg that they were “looking into” the general’s remarks, which, if true, would provide the first glimpse into Russia’s possible preparations for the next weeks.
Transnistria is a minor Russian-speaking breakaway enclave in western Ukraine. It declared independence when the Soviet Union fell apart in a brutal battle, but it is not recognized internationally and remains part of Moldova formally.
As part of a truce deal, a small unit of roughly 1,500 Russian troops has been stationed in the region since 1995.
Gen Minnekayev, Russia’s deputy commander of the central military district, spoke at a military event in the Sverdlovsk region.
“Control of Ukraine’s south is another route to Transnistria, where there are also reports of mistreatment of the Russian-speaking minority,” Gen Minnekayev stated.
Before initiating the invasion on February 24, President Vladimir Putin made similar accusations about purported discrimination against Russian speakers in Ukraine. Dmitry Medvedev, his predecessor, instigated an invasion of South Ossetia in Georgia in 2008 on identical grounds.
Ukraine’s defense ministry slammed Gen Minnekayev’s remarks as “imperialism” by Russia.
Ukraine’s government said Russia had “acknowledged that the goal of the ‘second phase’ of the conflict is not triumph over the fictitious Nazis, but merely the takeover of eastern and southern Ukraine” in a statement uploaded to Twitter.
Russia is organizing a series of phony independence referendums in occupied regions, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in order to create a succession of pro-Russian breakaway nations.
“You should know this is not to aid you if they ask you to fill out some questionnaires or leave your passport data someplace,” he advised.
“If an order from Moscow is given to create such a demonstration, it will be used to falsify the so-called referendum on your territory. This is the situation. Take care.”
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